Why stocking local cheese matters

26 February 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Looking closer to home when you’re stocking your counter could be a better choice for you, the economy, and the environment
Why stocking local cheese matters

According to Statista, around 411,000 metric tonnes of cheese was imported to the UK in 2022. As much as we love our Continental classics in Britain, this weighty dairy influx undoubtedly has an impact on the environment, and (factoring in the shipping/importing costs inevitably added on) the cheesemonger’s bottom line.

Add post-Brexit import rules into the mix, which introduce further costly paperwork and physical checks on milk, dairy, meat and meat products, and sourcing local cheese and charcuterie for the counter becomes a more obvious choice. Potentially, a more affordable one too.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation says the circular economy is one of the most important processes for addressing climate change. And the cheese counter can factor into that circular vision. Whether that is supporting cheesemakers in the local area, region, or simply choosing British. With more than 700 (and growing) varieties of cheese being made here, and quality and technology having grown exponentially in the last two decades, British cheese is, after all, no longer a poor relation to what’s being produced in the dairies of France, Switzerland and Italy.

“It’s very much my belief that cheesemongers should do what they can to support their local cheesemakers and celebrate the seasonality of cheese,” says Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli. “I think, from a sustainability point of view, nothing makes more sense to me than a local cheesemonger that is selling locally made cheese, made with milk from the herd that’s on the farm, and not shipped in using huge container lorries.”

Working in this way not only keeps money in the local economy, but it also, “encourages greater levels of co-operation between local small businesses. It reduces the number of road miles and, in turn, means that cheese comes from animals that are looked after. It should also be pointed out that small farms that produce their cheese are also usually the most innovative from a green perspective.”

Georgonzola in Lancashire is 100% British, apart from its wine. “That’s been the shop since we opened,” says owner George Hammond. “If we make it here, why would we need to buy from elsewhere?”

Though it can be tricky to track down a full counter of British options, depending on where you’re based, George says it’s worth exploring, and he does his best to replicate European favourites with homegrown swaps which he says are “just as good, if not better.”

“People are used to big chain supermarkets selling continental cheese. They don’t know how good British cheese can be. Beauvale, for example, I’ve found better than most supermarket Gorgonzolas, so it’s an easy one to convert people on.”

If you’re seeking an alternative to a young Gouda, George says, “Mayfield is just fabulous. It’s a slightly fudgier, buttery cheese that ticks all the boxes. Fen Farm are just pushing it out of the park with their Brie. And Old Winchester is a pretty good hard cooking cheese. But if customers are willing to spend a bit more, Yorkshire Pecorino is wonderful.”

George encourages more cheesemongers to give British a bit more love in 2024. “Speak to other retailers and see what works for them. And put British in the counter as a comparison to show customers what their options are.”

This, he says, opens up those cherished counterside conversations. “I’ve found, certainly with my customers, that they want to learn. They trust what I stock because they realise I know what I’m talking about, and they want to know more.”

Health and biology have a part to play in sourcing local too, says The Cheese Lady, Svetlana Kukharchuk. “I think when people grow up somewhere, they get used to that particular food, and it agrees with their biology better. That very much works in cheese. It is part of the local microbiome that is very good and friendly for the people who live in the area where it is made.”

Svetlana isn’t an advocate for going 100% British, saying cheesemongers still need to offer good variety, while being mindful of sourcing the very very best when they do venture overseas. “There are so many European cheeses we don’t make here. I particularly think things like Gruyere and Comte must come from where they come from.”

That said, around 30% of The Cheese Lady’s counter is British, with a slant towards Scotland, where she says some fantastic products are being made, such as, she recommends, Lanark Blue – styled on a Roquefort. “It’s made in a completely different terroir, which plays into the taste. Even though Lanark Blue is made to a Roquefort recipe, and the milk is the same breed of sheep, they end up being quite different. Both are great for their own reasons.”

Svetlana would like to see more innovation in British cheese, rather than producers trying to emulate the big, bold, traditional French varieties, which will take the market up a notch. “If people started to think about creating something unique that doesn’t exist here, that would be even better. But the most important thing for me is it has to have terroir. It needs to show the traditional microbiome of the place where it is made. To ooze the culture of that region. Cheese with a story.”

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